City Council members tom LaBonge and Paul Koretz introduced motions last week to restrict where food trucks can park on commercial streets. Their goal is to ‘Restrict catering trucks from parking in parking meters in commercially zoned areas’ and to move towards a scenario in which trucks are limited to ‘specially designated parking zones’ or towards a Portland-style situation where most food trucks are parked full-time on privately owned lots rather than driven through the city – mobile kinda in the sense that mobile homes are mobile.
Hopefully the restrictions will be blocked in the broader council, or struck down if they are passed. At a time when unemployment is high and the L.A. street scene is becoming slightly more vibrant, the City should be embracing economic opportunity, new forms of food access, and living streets. In fact, rather than limiting food trucks, what the City really needs to do is legalize sidewalk food vending. Once it’s legal rather than black market, the City can adopt reasonable regulations, for example, to incentivize mobile vending of healthy food and restrict unhealthy food sales around schools.
Did you know that only one of the top ten most populous cities in the United States doesn’t have legal sidewalk/ street food? That’s right, it’s supposedly diverse and global and forward-looking Los Angeles.
If I ran this town, I’d:
1. Legalize sidewalk vending
2. Encourage/ incentivize mobile vending of healthy food
3. Restrict unhealthy food sales near schools
Today I’ll focus on the first of these points, and try to post later about healthy vending and vending near schools.
So, how could we legalize and support and regulate mobile food vending? A legal permitting process would recognize the value of street/ mobile food, create opportunities for entrepreneurship in the legal economy, and allow the City to regulate and influence street food.
How Many? There should not be a cap on the number of permits available or sidewalk vendors allowed to operate. A cap of 3000 in NYC has resulted in a 20 year wait for permits, a side black market in permits under which vendors ‘rent’ out their permit for part of the day for up to $12,000, and twice as many illegal as permitted food vendors.
Where? Sidewalk vending should be allowed on sidewalks along all commercial and industrial zoned streets (and on residential streets as long as carts move along the sidewalk – like ice cream carts- rather than are parked there).
What are the requirements to operate legally? Require vendors to have a vending permit from city (with an affordable cost), a business license, and to carry liability insurance. Vendors should be responsible for customers’ trash. Vendors will also need to follow County health regulations:
1. Have a Los Angeles County Public Health Permit
2. Keep their cart in an approved commissary or stationary facility when not in use
3. Pass a food safety certification examination
4. Pass an annual vehicle inspection and display a certification decal on the vehicle
Who can vend? Many street vendors are undocumented workers. Set up permits such that forms of identification and data available to undocumented residents are accepted.
Who can veto? Do not require permission from adjacent/ local restaurants or food stores. If restaurants have concerns over competition from mobile vendors with fewer fixed costs, work with restaurants to reduce the red tape they face.
What must carts/ vehicles look like? Do not mandate the aesthetics of carts to promote a phony old-timey look. (The varied look of food vendors, from edgy, branded ‘twitter trucks’ to traditional taco trucks with hand painted murals, to wide wheeled ice cream carts, is one of the appealing things about mobile food vendors. There are thousands of photographs of L.A. food trucks and carts on flickr, for example.) Do work with the County Health Department and manufacturers on standardized cart/ vehicle designs that are easy to construct and operate and that meet food handling/ storage rules.
How to help vendors? Create a ‘one-stop-shop’ where vendors can apply for all necessary permits. Conduct outreach and training to encourage illegal vendors to apply for permits and to instruct vendors on their rights and responsibilities. Provide financing through the Community Redevelopment Agency and/or link vendors with micro-finance programs. (The Michigan Neighborhood Food Movers program partners with the Detroit Midtown Micro-Enterprise Fund (DMEF) “for managing and processing low interest loans for this program. Loans can be applied for startup operations by an entrepreneur for up to $15,000 for a three year period with favorable payment terms. The loan can be used for purchasing a truck and/or ongoing operations.”) Establish ‘hot food farmers markets’ where food trucks and carts can park, like the effort to create a regular spot for trucks and carts in Boyle Heights.